Believe it or not, Boeing really has made progress on the KC-46 tanker, after incurring at least $1.3 billion in cost overruns. Today, it got the only kind of proof that really matters to a corporation: they got the government’s promise of $2.8 billion for doing their job.
The contract award of $2.5 billion is for the first two LRIP production lots of seven and 12 planes. Including options, Boeing plans to build 179 of the 767-based airborne tankers for the Air Force to replace the ancient KC-135 fleet.
The tanker uses a boom to refuel Air Force planes and hoses that extend from the wings and center body to refuel Navy, Marine Corps and allied aircraft.
Boeing got the most recent contract for a replacement tanker back in 2011 after a decade of failed deals, illegal actions by the company, bumbling by the Air Force and perhaps the most vigorous public fight over a weapons system’s contract in at least 20 years.
Will the aircraft make money for Boeing? Almost certainly. Will Boeing be able to produce it at the rate the Air Force expects and will it perform as well as the service hopes? We’ll see.